Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Artists, be Dominicans and Preach it!

Who are the Dominicans?

In 1216, St. Dominic de Guzman founded the Order of Preachers, otherwise known as the Dominicans. Although this new order was created in specific response to the Albigensian heresy -- which denied the dignity of our humanity -- it was also meant to fulfill the need for capable preachers formed in the teachings of the Catholic faith and able to combat doctrinal error in all its forms.

St Dominic, Bl. Fra Angelico.
How was this formation accomplished? Through study; sharing the fruits of their studies through preaching and teaching; living a monastic life of poverty, chastity, and obedience; devotion to the liturgy -- but all of this can be summed up in these simple words: dedication to the Truth, for God is truth. Dominicans are to live in the truth, to be converted and sanctified by it, and to preach it. In other words, they are to live in Christ, to be converted and sanctified by Christ, and to preach Christ. For the truth they preach isn't just knowledge or words, it is the Word Incarnate. Christ told his Apostles, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through Me." Truth is the second person of the Holy Trinity, God Himself.

But what does the vocation of a musician, an artist, have to do with preaching? 

First of all, preaching can consist of many forms. One can preach through example -- through actions as well as words. But is it possible to evangelize through art? Absolutely,  though there is a delicate balance between art with an agenda and art which simply speaks the truth -- (for examples of "agenda" art, just look at the numerous sub-par prolife films Christians have made over the past several years).

Second of all, preaching not only can but *should* consist of multiple forms. Fr. Mark Daniel Kirby, OSB, argues that sometimes the truth, the naked truth, is not enough to persuade a person. However, if the truth is clothed in beauty, the truth often becomes not only less threatening but it takes on the splendor of the Father, what Pope Benedict XVI has termed the "Splendor of Truth." Beauty can reach the soul where the naked truth is often unable to penetrate. Truth speaks to the mind. But a person is made up of both a mind and a heart. You can tell person that something is true, but very often telling them is not enough.  They need to be awakened to the truth. In the words of Barbara Nicolosi, "It's not telling people the truth that saves them. It's getting them to wrestle with the truth that saves them."

The Crowning with Thorns, Caravaggio. 1607. 
And how does that awakening, that wrestling with the truth, come about? Christ is truth; but He is also goodness and beauty. Pope Benedict XVI has pointed out that beauty is the language native to the human heart. He once said: "The encounter with the beautiful can become the wound of an arrow that strikes the heart and in this way opens our eyes so that we can see the truth more clearly." Beauty such as the Alps, the Grand Canyon, a beautiful sunset, the Sistine Chapel, Bach's St. Matthew Passion, Brahms' Requiem, Caravaggio's painting The Crowning of Thorns -- these things often have far greater potential for striking a person's heart because beauty is disarming. In debates, arguments, discussion, people put up walls to guard themselves against anything that might make them uncomfortable, that might force them to have to reevaluate themselves and their beliefs. The truth by itself can intimidate and alienate. But Beauty has the power to remove these barriers so that God's grace might enter in.

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